Exchange stores on U.S. military bases are selling clothing made in unsafe factories in Bangladesh—and the apparel industry is fighting to keep it that way
A handful of Democrats -- Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in the Senate, and Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in the House -- introduced an amendment to the military spending bill that would have required the exchanges to give preferential treatment to suppliers that sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a legally binding agreement hatched last year between clothing brands, labor groups and non-governmental organizations.
But major retailers who'd launched a separate, industry-led initiative, called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, objected to the Democrats' amendment, saying it would punish the alliance's U.S. members who'd declined to join the accord. While the alliance has pledged more than $40 million in funding toward factory upgrades, its participants are not bound by the same legal commitments as those in the accord, and labor groups have criticized its lack of union involvement.
Although the Democrats' measure died in the Senate, [Sen. Dick] Durbin did manage to insert an amendment in the recently passed appropriations bill that requires the Defense Secretary to report to Congress whether the exchanges are sourcing clothes from factories that don't comply with the accord. In a hearing this week, Durbin praised the Marine Corps for adopting a rule that manufacturers who produce clothing with Marine logos must abide by the accord's rules. (Such clothes were found in the rubble of the Tazreen fire, prompting the new policy.) Durbin said he wants to see all government agencies adopt similar standards.
"Let's try to avoid having the American government implicated in horrible deaths of exploited workers" doesn't exactly seem like some sort of extreme standard, don't you think?